Top five things to know about solar energy & solar power in May 2016

Sun shining brightly on solar panels

What you need to know about solar energy technology, right now

Can you feel it? There’s a definite changing of the guard happening in energy across the globe right now, as clean, renewable energy sources are replacing dirty fossil fuels at a rapid pace.

And when a quick transformation occurs in any industry, there’s typically one thing that always coincides with the change rapid technological advancement. With so many scientists around the world focused on energy right now, many of the brightest minds are quickly transforming energy technology.

And when the topic is narrowed down to just solar energy and solar power, the recent innovations seem even more impressive. Focus on bettering solar energy technology is resulting in things like record efficiency, and ideas that were thought impossible not long ago are now inching closer to becoming a reality.

That said, here are the top five things to know about solar energy right now:

1) Development of solar cells that create power in the dark

A team of scientists at Australian National University (ANU), along with scientists from the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley), is developing with a new artificial material, also known as a metamaterial or nanomaterial, that glows in an “unusual way” when heated up.

Here’s why this is interesting for solar energy: If this metamaterial is combined with thermophotovoltaic cells — cells that convert radiated heat into electricity — it could result in the creation of new series highly efficient thermophotovoltaic cells that could create electricity at all hours of any day — in both the light and the dark.

More: More about thermophotovoltaic cells

2) Development of transparent solar cells (solar windows)

A team of researchers from both Los Alamos National Laboratory, in association with researchers from the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy, is working to development a real-life working prototype of a window that can create electricity by using solar energy as a source. Standard, clear windows are being transformed into solar collectors and electricity generators by “harnessing the unique properties of quantum dots.”

In summary, these scientists are creating clear solar cells that redirect light waves to solar cells that are installed at the edges of the glass panes. The cells are then able to harvest the solar energy like traditional solar cells and, ultimately, create electricuty.

More: More about transparent solar cells

3) Development of solar cells that create electricity from raindrops

Through the use of a wonder material known as graphene, Chinese scientists are showing success generating electricity from rain drops. Rain water is not pure water, and contains salts, which makes the whole process a possibility.

Scientists are developing new, all-weather solar cells by utilizing graphene sheets (thin layers of pure carbon) that, during rain, work to separate positively and negatively charged ions in rain water to ultimately create current. So, in theory, these hybrid solar panels could create electricity, rain or shine.

See also: More about all-weather solar cells

4) Solar cell efficiency records being shattered regularly

Researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) are developing new perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells that they say break all previous efficiency records. The PolyU scientists claim a 25.5 percent power conversion efficiency rate with the new perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells.

Perovskite is another “wonder material” that is surfacing frequently in new solar energy technology. Solar cells that use perovskite as a light-harvesting active layer are not only known to have high efficiency, but they are also cheap to produce and simple to manufacture. This combination is piquing the interest of many around the globe.

More: More about perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells

5) Development of solar cells that create electricity from bacteria

Researchers at Binghamton University in New York are developing bio-solar panels by connecting nine separate bio-solar cells in a grid-like fashion. The new bio-solar panels use cyanobacteria as a clean energy source, and have already generated continuous electricity in testing.

The power supplied by bio-solar pales in comparison to other types of solar cells, but is still creating current nonetheless. So, while bio-solar may not have immediate uses in commercial solar systems, the technology could potentially be used as part of a power supply in remote locations.

More: More about bacteria-powered solar cells